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Saturday, June 3, 2017

The Eccentric Kentucky Scientist #kentuckypioneers

The Eccentric Kentucky Scientist

Constantine Samuel RafinesqueConstantine Samuel Rafinesque, of French-German descent, was born near Constantinople, Turkey on October 22, 1783. He spent much of his boyhood days in Italy and in traveling on the Continent. Rafinesque came to America in 1802 where he remained for three years before returning to Italy. He was married in 1809 to a Sicilian woman, Josephine Vaccaro, who bore him two children. Rafinesque returned to America in 1815 and shortly thereafter met with his former friend, John D. Clifford of Philadelphia and Lexington, Kentucky. Clifford, the "only man he ever loved," persuaded him to go to Henderson, Kentucky where he met the great Audubon, who took him under his roof, and who told him many amusing tales of the fishes of the Ohio, which the scientist believed, for which Audubon ridiculed him to his face. In 1819 Rafinesque was appointed to the chair of natural science and modern languages in Transylvania University. This was during the presidency of Horace Holley, when the old University was at the high-tide of its history; however, in those days, the diminutive scientist, though heralded as "the most learned man in America," was not received as such in the Blue Grass region of Kentucky. From the president down to the children of the little city he was looked upon as an impossible creature. Seven of the best years of his life were spent in the service of the University and of the town. His boldest dream for the town was a Botanical Garden, modeled upon the gardens of France, and though he did actually make a splendid start toward this ideal, in the end all his plans came to nothing. Thus, in June of 1825, Rafinesque left Lexington, never to return. He went to Philadelphia, where he spent the remaining fifteen years of his life, and died on September 18, 1840, sitting among his books, in a miserable, rat-ridden garret on Race Street in Philadelphia. Rafinesque pubished 447 books, pamphlets, magazine articles, translations, and reprints. His most important works are >Ichthyologia Ohiensis, or Natural History of the Fishes Inhabiting the River Ohio and its Tributary Streams (Lexington, 1820); and his Ancient Annals of Kentucky, which was printed as an introduction to the History of Kentucky by Humphrey Marshall in 1824. The oversheets of this were made into a pamphlet of thirty-nine pages. The little work considers the antiquities of the State, and is the starting point for all latter-day writers concerning the prehistoric men of Kentucky. Despite his reputation as being strangly eccentric, Rafinesque was characterized as "the most remarkable history of Kentucky that was ever written, or ever will be." Source: Bibliography. A Kentucky Cardinal, by James Lane Allen (New York, 1894); Life and Writings of Rafinesque, by Richard E. Call (Louisville, Kentucky, 1895); Rafinesque: A Sketch of his Life, by T. J. Fitzpatrick (Des Moines, Iowa, 1911). 

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